Not being able to defecate: signs and symptoms of constipation

Not being able to defecate or having difficulty defecating is a common complaint. Inability to defecate can occur in both children and adults. Many people sometimes suffer from constipation, also called ‘constipation’. The official definition of constipation is: ‘Constipation is an abnormally changed bowel pattern for the person concerned in which too little, too hard and/or too difficult to produce stool is passed.ยน With constipation, the stool remains in the large intestine for too long, causing you to experience discomfort. suffers from absent, difficult, hard, painful or slow bowel movements. In short, you can no longer poop properly. What are the main causes of not being able to poop?

Not being able to poop/defecate is not possible

  • Not being able to poop: what is constipation?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of constipation?
  • When should you consult your doctor if you are unable to defecate?
  • Cause of not being able to poop
  • Not being able to poop: tips
  • Fibre, drinking and exercise
  • Psyllium seed or sterculia gum
  • Lactulose and macrogol


Stomach pain, constipation and inability to poop / Source: Andrey Popov/

Not being able to poop: what is constipation?

Every person has their own stool pattern, also called ‘defecation pattern’. Exactly how often you need to poop varies from person to person. There are people who have to poop several times a day, while others only have to do a big errand two or three times a week. The digestion of our food starts in the mouth and food is broken down throughout the digestive system. During this process, moisture is also extracted from the food paste, especially in the large intestine, after which the food paste is transported to the rectum. However, if the food remains in the large intestine for too long, too much fluid is extracted, making the stool harder and making it more difficult for you to poop. Many people only occasionally suffer from constipation, while others suffer from it chronically (long-term), which can significantly affect your quality of life.

What are the signs and symptoms of constipation?

Constipation is characterized by hard, dry stools and inability to defecate. It often takes a lot of effort to get rid of the stool. You can only achieve this by pushing hard, which can cause hemorrhoids. As a result of constipation, you may also experience (cramping) abdominal pain and a hard, swollen abdomen. When your intestine is very full, overflow diarrhea (paradoxical diarrhea) can occur, in which soft stools find their way past the blockage. Poop stains in your underwear and bad odors can be the result.

When should you consult your doctor if you are unable to defecate?

A short-term blockage is often no reason to panic. It is important to go to the doctor in the following cases:

  • in case of persistent constipation, i.e. if the complaints last longer than two weeks;
  • if you find blood in your stool;
  • if you suffer from hemorrhoids or cracks in the anus;
  • in case of a suddenly changed bowel pattern;
  • If you have the feeling that the intestine is not completely emptied;
  • if, in addition to constipation, you also suffer from other complaints, such as abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, little or no appetite or fever.


Cause of not being able to poop

It often happens that you do not have a bowel movement for several days. This can have many causes. What often occurs is a short-term constipation as a result of a change in diet or during an illness, during which you have to rest in bed. You may also suffer from constipation as a result of a change in the familiar environment (for example at the beginning of the holiday). Another common cause is (emotional) tension. As a result of anger, sadness, or stress at work, the muscles of your colon may respond by cramping. But you can also suffer from constipation during pregnancy or after giving birth. Short-term constipation can also occur during a weight loss diet. The above examples are (almost) all situations in which your body has to adapt to the new situation, which can take several days.

Exercise encourages your colon to move / Source:

Long-term constipation
Long-term constipation is often related to incorrect living and eating habits, such as:

  • incorrect diet (with little fiber, while these are essential for healthy digestion),
  • too little exercise (regular exercise is important for good bowel function), or
  • too little fluid intake (drinking enough ensures smooth stools and good bowel movements).

Other causes
Ignoring the urge by holding your stool for too long can also cause hard and dry stools because the stool stays in the colon for longer. Furthermore, some medicines have constipation as a side effect. Sedatives, some painkillers and sleeping pills can affect bowel movements. It is less known that constipation can be the result of incorrect use of the pelvic floor muscles. Constipation can occur, especially if you have difficulty relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. Constipation can sometimes also occur with an illness or a chronic condition. For example, patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) alternate between diarrhea and constipation, and an underactive thyroid gland can regularly cause constipation.

Whole wheat spaghetti / Source: Martin Sulman

Not being able to poop: tips

Fibre, drinking and exercise

One way to keep the intestines moving is to consume enough fiber every day. Fiber ensures good bowel movements. Dietary fiber makes the stool more voluminous and softer, so that it passes through the intestines more easily. Gradually increase the amount of fiber in your diet until you get at least 30 to 40 grams of fiber daily. Whole grain products (whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta), vegetables, fruit and legumes contain a lot of fiber. Limit foods that are high in fat and low in fiber, such as cheese and other dairy products, processed foods, and meat. They can make constipation worse. In addition, drink enough water and exercise daily. This also encourages your intestines to move.

Fresh fruit / Source:

Psyllium seed or sterculia gum

If you are unable to eat enough fiber, you can supplement with psyllium seed or sterculia gum. These are natural fibers that allow the stool to absorb more water. The stool becomes softer and swells slightly, which stimulates bowel movements.

Lactulose and macrogol

If taking extra natural fibers every day does not provide sufficient relief, your doctor can prescribe lactulose or macrogol if necessary. These agents draw moisture into the intestinal cavity, making the stool thinner and softer and the intestines moving and kneading better. If necessary, the doctor can prescribe an additional agent for a short period of time to stimulate the intestines, such as bisacodyl or sennosides. In case of severe constipation and inability to defecate, some medications can be taken together, such as lactulose together with bisacodyl. Possibly a bisacodyl suppository to get rid of the first hard stools. An enema that you apply to the anus works even faster.

  1. JAH Eekhof et al. (ed.): Minor ailments in general practice, fifth completely revised edition, second edition, Elsevier Healthcare, Amsterdam, 2010, p.543.


read more

  • Stool: causes blood and mucus in poop and color and odor
  • Pain when defecating: stabbing or burning pain during bowel movements
  • Bowel movement problems: black, red and green feces/poo
  • Blocked intestines: causes, symptoms, self-care, treatment
  • Constipation symptoms: constipation, abdominal pain, swollen abdomen
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